- Listening is key!
- Create a safe space to talk.
- Educate our kids.
We can’t help that news is everywhere nowadays. It consumes our phones, social media, conversations, and television screens. And despite our best efforts as parents, there will come a time when our children stumble upon something we wish they hadn’t. Knowing how to react and how to manage their potentially confused understanding and worried reactions, especially in times of tragedy like a school shooting, can be a delicate thing to navigate.
As parents, we walk a fine line between protecting our kids and respecting their time to grow. In today’s post in The Hard Stuff Series, I want to frame the conversation around media and the inevitable exposure to it, in a way that will educate our children, make them feel empowered, and build trust in your relationships.
Let’s Stop & Think
Kids’ level of comprehension changes as they mature, but children do hear what is happening. Here are some actionable tips when you find yourself in a conversation you may not have been expecting:
1. Monitor Yourself.
Think about how you are reacting to the news. Be aware of your body language and your verbal behavior. What are you saying? What are you doing with your hands? This is important because your child will see how you react to the news and it will influence your child’s reaction, now and in the future. The saying, “more is caught than taught” is a real thing to keep in mind in moments like this.
2. Be Open.
As parents, we need to strike a balance between providing a safe haven for our children and exposing them to the harsh realities of the world. How do we do this well?
Be open and transparent. If you see something on the news and your child is with you, say something about it. If they have a question, answer it honestly using age-appropriate language. Go as deep into the conversation as your child is needing to process. A few leading questions can reveal where they are at. Not sure how to do this? Check out our blog post on 5 easy ways to better conversations with your child. This is a must read and will change the way you speak and listen to your child.
3. Allow Time For Expression.
Listen! I repeat. Listen! Allow your child to express their thoughts about what they are seeing and hearing on the news. It will help them to formulate free thought and compassion and empathy. This means:
Encourage your kids to talk freely! That’s how you build a safe space without them feeling judged, remorseful, guilty, or with some kids, even embarrassed. Plus, allowing them to talk freely will get them to reflect on what others are feeling. Help them recognize the difference between rational thoughts and potentially reactive and natural emotions.
4. Find The Facts Together.
With the overabundance of news must come an excess of caution. What is real? What is not? What is fake news? Depending on the age, an exercise we suggest is looking up the information about the news together from a reputable source so that your child learns the correct facts about what they are hearing and seeing. Make sure to do so with dignity and with respect to eliminate shame, guilt and ultimately, embarrassment.
NPR has a helpful article on how to self-check and identify the facts in the media. This is a great exercise, too, to educate our children on media literacy so they can have the proper tools and facts to have an open and meaningful conversation.
Try not to minimize or discount your child’s concerns and fears. Instead, reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe. If the news event happened far away, like a hurricane or wildfire, you could use distance to reassure kids.
And remember to explain these protective measures into an age-appropriate language. John Hopkins has an excellent article on what age appropriate means for different age groups. With a preteen and a soon to be teen in my house, certain parts of our dynamics change over the years. But one of the things I still appreciate as they get older, after all of the comforting, is that there is still great value and reassurance in proximity. Grab a great movie and your favorite dessert, or spend an evening at the dinner table playing board games and have fun together. As a parent and adult, you understand the need for levity and grit in these times.
You’ve got this!